REF noose round neck of academic freedom

September 12, 2013

Over the summer, my department asked me to prepare a research excellence framework impact statement based on work I had done six years ago (“Swansea’s REF plan diet hard to swallow”, News, 5 September). This came out of a collaboration with a young statistician from abroad who visited my research group for a year to learn about dynamic modelling. Our joint paper was a success and caught the attention of his government’s health division. He was therefore keen to push the work forward, so I helped but took a back seat.

As a senior researcher, part of my job is to train young faculty to develop into independent researchers. Well, this is what I thought, anyway, but six years later I realise my mistake. What I should have done was take ownership of the work, make sure my name was on everything and record, in minute detail, all evidence of impact. Based on these criteria, I did not do my job properly. I suppose that any day now my university could fire me, as can any university fire any academic who cannot put together a convincing impact statement.

Now, some readers might say it is illegal to instigate a policy of retrospective assessment of employees based on new criteria arbitrarily imposed by some suit. But if this were the case, then surely by now our universities would have sued the REF out of existence? By accepting this principle and thus setting a very dangerous precedent, we have, in effect, tightly applied the noose around the neck of academic freedom. All that is required of us now is a gentle nudge to send it to oblivion. Based on the track record of our generation of academics, we will be only too eager to oblige.

Philip Maini
Mathematical Institute
University of Oxford

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

United Nations peace keeper

Understanding the unwritten rules of graduate study is vital if you want to get the most from your PhD supervision, say Kevin O'Gorman and Robert MacIntosh

David Parkins Christmas illustration (22 December 2016)

A Dickensian tale, set in today’s university

Eleanor Shakespeare illustration (5 January 2017)

Fixing problems in the academic job market by reducing the number of PhDs would homogenise the sector, argues Tom Cutterham

poi, circus

Kate Riegle van West had to battle to bring her circus life and her academic life together

Houses of Parliament, Westminster, government

There really is no need for the Higher Education and Research Bill, says Anne Sheppard